Road Trip Series #3: Luggage

Which luggage is right for you?

How much do you pack? What do you put in your bag?  Do you take multiple bags?  With a family trip, you have to be sure to be efficient and cunning with your list of things to take and how to take them. Let’s talk.

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Size of luggage

We are minimalists when it comes to luggage. Being a family of five on educators’ budgets, we have to make some tough decisions. There are only a couple American airlines that allow checked luggage without charging an extra fee. Let’s be honest, they don’t charge an extra fee but they do charge more than the budget airlines. So it all really evens out usually, even if you pay to check luggage.

But not us. We make it work. We only take carry on luggage on a plane. If we are taking one of the economy flights that only allows a personal item OR carry on, we wear our jackets and other outerwear. Then we usually pay to check one or two large bags (depending on the trip length) and just do the personal item.

 This post is assuming we are just using our carry-on bags with our “personal item.” That’s how we normally fly and that’s similar to how we pack a car.

What bag to choose?


Carry on size restrictions vary a little. They will likely shrink in size restriction over time in the airlines’ efforts to force you to pay more. So keep an eye on that. Some airlines have a smaller/larger allowance so be very clear. And don’t try to be sneaky and say, “whoops. I didn’t realize.” Sometimes they will gate check an oversize bag for you as a courtesy but most often they will charge you up to 50 bucks to gate check that sucker. You don’t want that surprise to start your vacation!

Standard carry on is usually around 9 inches x 14 inches x 22 inches (22 cm x 35 cm x 56 cm), including handles and wheels. INCLUDING HANDLES AND WHEELS! Don’t forget that! You can stuff a lot in there ya know. When we returned from Europe we had picked up a few goodies to bring home. So we had to buy a bag to check. We didn’t need a huge bag so we bought one that could be used as a carry on in the future. It’s a brand called IT and it’s super lightweight and sturdy. It’s a soft sided bag with spinner wheels! It is my favorite!   Those spinner wheels are a game changer if you’ve not tried them before.


Daily bag: backpack and purse

Well I should ask, “backpack or shoulder bag?” Because there are many men (most) that won’t wear something if it smacks of a purse due to societal pressure. However, a purse is darn convenient! So we will go with a shoulder bag or backpack. I won’t discuss a fanny pack. Nope. I won’t. I know they are more convenient than ALL the rest but I just can’t. There is enough extra fluff around my hips and waist without visually chopping myself in half with a fanny pack. NOPE.

So… What to choose? Well, the question is not really about WHERE you are going but more about how far you will be from a home “base.”

Just think. If you are planning to leave your hotel or car or friend’s house and spend the day out, you may need more room. But if you are driving from place to place and have access to your car, you probably will be carrying less. So I usually have ready a small backpack as well as a small hip bag that holds my ID, money, etc.

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The best backpacks, I don’t care what anyone else says, are Jansport. They come in all types of sizes from minis to over sized luggage style bags. The best for a day bag is one that can also be used as your personal item on the plane. It’s not too big. Not too small. And Jansport is so confident in their product that they offer a lifetime warranty on them! Not all of their bags fit the dimensions required for a personal item. But this one does… it’s a “baughman” and it comes in lots of colors and designs.

Mini bags

Hidden within your personal item should be a well organized wallet that can be used for a quick jaunt bag. You may be in the middle of Chicago and only need a small bag for money, phone, and some chapstick so a small bag that’s just a little more than a wallet is ideal. My favorite is this perfect little Sak bag. There’s room for a phone, your chapstick, and card slots. It’s perfect.


That’s all you need.

Well, if you like pretty bags. If you are the type that likes no frills, I would still recommend the two larger bags.

Having a reliable place for your stuff is super important. Now… what to put in these great bags…. hmmmmm… That’s another post.

So what do you think? Do you have a favorite bag? Checked? Carry on? Personal sized? Wallet? Please share. Let me learn from you!

 - Leslie Davis Dunbar

Jason Valade